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Malala, Khodorkovsky, Snowden Among Nominees For Sakharov Prize

Ales Byalyatski is one of three Belarusian political prisoners nominated for the 2013 Sakharov Prize.
Malala Yousafzai, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Edward Snowden, and the Belarusian political prisoners Ales Byalyatski, Eduard Lobau, and Mikola Statkevich are among the nominees for this year's Sakharov Prize.

The prize, which is worth 50,000 euros ($65,000), is awarded every year by the European Parliament to honor defenders of human rights and freedom of expression.

The favorite to win is the Pakistani education activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai, who is backed by several prominent European Parliament members (MEPs) from the liberal group ALDE, as well as the two center-right groups -- the EPP and ECR.

Malala, a schoolgirl and former BBC blogger, wrote about life under Taliban pressure and her views about promoting education for girls. Last year she was shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen while riding a school bus, but survived the attack.

Russia & Belarus

The three Belarusian nominees, all political prisoners, are also enjoying large cross-party support in the European Parliament and are backed by a large number of MEPs from neighboring Poland.

Byalyatski is the head of the human rights center Vyasna, Eduard Lobau is from the Young Front youth movement, and Mikola Statkevich is a former opposition presidential candidate. The three men are nominated on behalf of all Belarusian political prisoners.

The German Green MEP Werner Schulz, together with 40 other MEPs, nominated the imprisoned former head of the oil giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in 2003 and later convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to prison. Yukos was hit with a series of tax claims from the Russian government that totaled some $27 billion. The company was later dismantled.

In 2010, Khodorkovsky was convicted in a second case of stealing oil from his own company. He is due for release in October 2014.

Controversial Choice

The Green group and the leftist GUE/NGL party group have nominated U.S. leaker Edward Snowden, who in May revealed information about several top-secret surveillance programs run by the U.S. and British governments.

Snowden is charged by U.S. federal prosecutors with espionage and theft of government property. He has received temporary asylum in Russia.

Nominations must obtain the support of at least 40 members of the European Parliament or one political group in the chamber.

The nominees will officially be presented in the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on September 16.

Three nominees will be short-listed on September 30. The conference of presidents, which consists of the leaders of the seven party groups in the parliament, will decide the final winner on October 10.

The award ceremony is due to take place on November 19 or 20, during the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg. Last year's winners from Iran, the filmmaker Jafar Panahi and the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, could not collect the prize.

The Sakharov Prize, named in honor of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was first handed out in 1988, with Nelson Mandela the first winner.

Other notable recipients include Belarusian opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Russian civil rights group Memorial, and the first president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova.
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.